Henning: Twin pillars of '84 Tigers get deserved Hall call
Now it’s more complete, that baseball party from the 1980s, when Tiger Stadium was home to all those seasons of revelry and when Ernie Harwell’s or George Kell’s voice made Tigers games as much theater as baseball.
Now the Tigers have two Hall of Fame players to go with that World Series parade from 1984. Now they’ll have a couple of plaques in Cooperstown alongside the one for their manager, Sparky Anderson, earned 17 years ago.
Alan Trammell and Jack Morris are headed to a quaint place in New York for next July’s yearly summer lawn-fest, all after they scored on Sunday’s vote by the Modern Era Committee. The committee is a 16-person panel that, during a confab at the winter meetings in Orlando, Florida, decided two players who missed 15 times on the writers’ ballot deserved a niche in sports’ greatest museum because of the enormous skills, more than a combined 38 years, they brought to big-league baseball.
Trammell was the metronome-smooth shortstop and steady hitter whose numbers all along suggested he, some year, would reach Cooperstown. He played 20 seasons, all with the Tigers, making him the first whole-career Tigers player to hit the Hall since Al Kaline was a first-ballot winner in 1980.
Morris had a shorter big-league life, 18 years, many of them as undisputed ace for the Tigers, and later as a trophy starter for the Twins and Blue Jays before he wrapped up with the Indians.
Morris came much closer than Trammell to winning during his 15 tries with the writers, peaking at 67.7 percent, while Trammell never got more than 40.9 when 75 percent was the minimum to win a plaque.
But while the debate over each player was, and remains, as furious as Hall of Fame duels often are, each man, tied so deeply and eternally to the Tigers’ 1980s grandeur, won Sunday when the Modern Day reviewers convened at Disneyworld’s Swan and Dolphin Hotel.
Hits and misses
Others missed. Don Mattingly, Dave Parker, Dale Murphy, Steve Garvey, Tommy John, Luis Tiant, and Ted Simmons, the Southfield High star and sky-high-IQ catcher who someday should get his plaque, were bypassed by the assorted baseball students and executives who hashed out each man’s case.
So, too, did Marvin Miller’s candidacy fail. He was not a player. He was a lawyer whose work heading the players’ union allowed big-league players to earn maximum compensation, in the manner of any entertainer or business person within a free-market system America supposedly reveres.
Miller deserves his prize in the same way, Ted Lindsay, the grand Red Wings great, merits the NHL’s eternal thanks and respect for decades ago making professional athletes something other than property.
And so, too, does another man who missed Sunday, who didn’t even make the reviewers’ 2018 list, Lou Whitaker, deserve a place of permanence — in the players’ wing alongside Morris and Trammell.
Digging into Whitaker’s career numbers is like scraping a shovel against a gold vein that somehow slipped past early prospectors. He absolutely belongs in Cooperstown and it’s worth wondering what this year’s selectors were thinking when they left him off the 10-man Modern Era lineup.
He has a case every bit as compelling as Trammell’s. And when the quality-control overseers meet again in a few years to consider players from Whitaker’s time, he’s entitled to justice his numbers all but make an imperative.
But this Sunday evening announcement was about the winners. Trammell and Morris convinced a broad group of national baseball scholars they had extraordinary careers on a level with a game’s all-time best players.
And they did.
Morris seemed, here at least, to have a slimmer shot than Trammell. True, he did much better on those earlier writers’ ballots. But if you sift through historic comparisons, and really crunch numbers in the fashion taken to such science by men like Jay Jaffe (SI.com), as well as Keith Law and Dan Szymborski (ESPN.com), etc., you come away with a mixed case for Morris that made his candidacy, at best, a jump-ball.
In fact, those same misgivings through the years were part of a personal ballot problem with Morris. The high ERA (3.90, highest of any Hall of Fame pitcher). The relatively low strikeout rate. The fact his numbers benefited from Trammell and Whitaker behind him, and from playing for teams like the Tigers and Twins that helped plump his career stats. All of this made Morris a pitcher who, as you poked more deeply into the data, became for many a tough sell.
It also made, personally, for a tough no-vote. Popular opinion is that Morris wasn’t a writers’ favorite and therefore paid a price at the ballot box. And that’s a load of compost.
If personal feelings carried a sliver of significance, Morris would have been a fast thumbs-up. He threw a borderline comic tantrum during the ’84 season but those few weeks of silliness weren’t going to disqualify a man and pitcher whose competitive furnace burned white hot for 18 years.
He had, and has, a mind as strong as his right arm and almost always shared an intellect that made a person understand more than his body was at work on a mound at Tiger Stadium or the Metrodome, or wherever he was bringing his craft and fire.
It’s good that he is in, especially when Sunday’s group was clearly stingy with its votes.
Tribute to Tram
Trammell, though, will earn the loudest cheers from Motown’s baseball worshipers now that he is Cooperstown-bound.
He was here for 20 years. Always in that Tigers uniform. Always wearing that dark-blue “3” on his jersey, a number you might bet the Tigers will now retire. Always laying his glove on the ground, dirt spilling from the leather as he snared the ball and slung a throw that moved as true as a comet to Darrell Evans or Dave Bergman at first.
Trammell was one-half of baseball’s greatest-ever double-play tandem that more properly will be acknowledged when Whitaker hits Cooperstown. And he will.
But it was his partner’s glee in which Detroit’s unmatched baseball universe was sharing, vicariously, Sunday night. Every person who watched his grace at short, who watched him whip that bat through a ball and drive it into Tiger Stadium’s seats in left, or maybe deep into the upper deck, who watched him close that left shoulder and spank a hard single to right, scoring that runner from second who often was Whitaker — this is the man Detroit celebrated Sunday.
This baseball skills master, who like most of the great Tigers of the ‘80s was scouted and drafted personally by Bill Lajoie, is now headed for a perpetual place in baseball’s Holy Land.
He loves the Tigers and was good enough to take on a miserable no-win situation as a resuscitating team’s manager during the bleakest years in memory. He was even more noble, after his inevitable firing, to never scorn the Tigers, to never swear off a team that had not been terribly fair to him.
And, of course, because he represents personal goodness as much as he embodied baseball artistry for two decades, he agreed to return to the Tigers three years ago as a special assistant. Now he coaches and scouts and sits in on front-office meetings and he has been — as anyone will tell you privately — an absolute treasure chest of savvy, smarts, and baseball splendor.
So, we’ll see you in Cooperstown, Alan and Jack.
You guys brought a town and its baseball heritage so much during those giddy days of the ‘80s. Better yet, it’s what you brought to the game of baseball, at large, that explains Sunday’s triumph.
Congrats, men. From all of us.